Noted poet Daud Haider on this year's edition of Dhaka Lit Fest
I admit, I am ashamed. I have little knowledge about Bangladesh’s contemporary politics, arts, literature and culture.
You can call me an ignorant. Sometimes I get curious indeed; but I suppress it for different reasons. But that does not mean that I have forgotten my country, my people and my past.
The scent of mud-breeze-water may have left my body but the serenity and rapture of the sky-cloud-rain-river pervade my spirit. They are present in every layer of my thought, consciousness.
Euphemistically expressing “I,” “Me,” and “Myself” is not in my nature. These things wear out soon, people don’t fall for them.
“Home sweet home” is an old American folk song. This “home” refers to one’s own country. And everytime you meet someone from home in a foreign land, you turn to the topic of “sweet home”. You take pleasure in knowing about home – irrespective of whether it’s good or bad.
I didn’t know Sadaf Saaz, a gorgeous, sprightly young girl. She attended the 17th edition of Berlin International Literature Festival. It took place from September 6 to 16 and was attended by famous writers from across the world, including Arundhati Roy, Amit Chaudhuri, Tim Parks and David Gross.
I stumbled across Sadaf Saaz’s name in the programme schedule, which introduced her as a “Bangladeshi poet.” Beside a solo recitation, she was scheduled to speak at two panel discussions.
No poet-author-novelist from Bangladesh had been invited to the Berlin International Literature Festival before. At least a dozen Nobel laureates have participated in the much-esteemed festival in the last 17 years. Last year, Nobel Prize winner Ishiguro attended the festival. So did Adonis – Dhaka Lit Fest’s major attraction this year. Salman Rushdie attended six times, Arundhati Roy thrice. I took great pleasure in seeing Sadaf Saaz’s name in the schedule.
She is a poet, a poet from Bangladesh. Have I read her poems? No. In which language does she write? Bangla or English? Don’t know. Then I remembered UPL Publication’s Mahrukh Mohiuddin talking about her during last year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. She said she would publish one of her books. She was all praise for her poetry.
The name “Sadaf Saaz,” that too in Bangladesh, is uncommon. “Sadaf” is common in Iran but I have not heard “Saaz.” I initially thought it could be a pseudonym. Lots of poets and authors have them. Like the Syrian poet Adonis in Dhaka Lit Fest. Rabindranath too had one – Bhanushingho. The famous Rajshekhar Basu used the pseudonym “Porshuram,” Samaresh Basu “Kalkut,” Sunil Gangopadhyay “Sanatan Pathak” and “Nil Lohit,” and Annadashankar Ray used “Lilamoy Ray.”
The Berlin International Literature Festival was teeming with writers from more than a hundred countries. A beautiful young girl in sari engaged in deep conversation caught my eye.
“Wearing a sari,” I thought to myself it must be someone from Bangladesh.
“You must be Sadaf Saaz?”
She was taken aback but responded politely: “Yes.”
A long conversation ensued. She told me who her father was.
“[You are] Chittagong University’s Jamal Nazrul Islam’s daughter? Jamal Bhai’s daughter? I was very upset at his sudden demise.”
The conversation might upset Sadaf so I changed the topic and said “Your presence in Berlin International Literature Festival is the presence of Bangladesh.” Her face lit up. She had shouldered the responsibility of representing her country at the festival with a smile on her face.
Her presence made Bangladesh’s presence at the festival bright. Bangladesh is evoked in all the three poems she recited. They are in English. Another person read out the German translation of the poems. All three poems drew admiration and fans.
Sadaf’s English pronunciation is excellent, although with a colonial accent. Just like all other Subcontinental people, even though she lived in Britain.
The English word “mango” is derived from ancient Tamil. It is pronounced “Mungo” by Germans and “Man-go” by Australians. The Australians also pronounce “days” as “die-z”.
There are many complexities with Bangla pronunciation too. For example, the last letter of the word “Uchcharon”, or pronounciation, is “mudhanno”. How do you differentiate between a “mudhanno” and a “duntanno”? Is there a slight difference in pronunciation? Then, are the pronunciations of “dontesho, talibashsho and madhinashsho” less complex? When there is a donteshsho at the beginning, it is pronounced Cha. But what if there is a donteshsho at the end of a word? Is Rakhaldas pronounced Rakhaldach?
Let’s leave the pronunciation and punditry to the experts. We are illiterate; we speak and write in ordinary, easy to understand language.
Sadaf Saaz’s recitation in “English” impressed and thrilled the audience. She was hailed by the crowd. Blessed is Bangladesh.
Sadaf was saying “as much as it is necessary to bring world literature to Bangladesh, Dhaka Lit Fest is also about highlighting Bangla literature’s power, universality, rhythm, grounding and strength to the world.”
Amid the arrival of world literature in Dhaka, and as a result Bangladesh, the buzz created by the Dhaka Lit Fest- with big shots of contemporary world literature (British-Nigerian writer Booker winner Ben Okri is but a falling star) – will naturally draw questions about how much Bangladesh will benefit from this? May be they have already been raised (don’t know for sure).
Setting aside the questions, I will say that the responsibility the Dhaka Lit Fest has taken to introduce Bangla literature to the world is dynamic and beautiful, even though limited in scale.
To people closely associated with Dhaka Lit Fest such as Kazi Anis Ahmed, Sadaf Saaz and Ahsan Akbar, and those I don’t know -don’t need to in fact – what we need is to uphold Bangladesh to the world. I strongly believe that Dhaka Lit Fest can do it. And there are some strategies to do it. If necessary, I will explain.
I don’t have any attachment to the “trouble” of politics-art-literature-culture of Bangladesh, but when the Sadafs’ come and say [the country is] “advancing against all odds,” I say: “I am with you Bangladesh.”
Sadaf Saaz’s face emanates light. Bangladesh glows.